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Kersey Graves 16 Chap43

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OF all the follies ever enacted or exhibited under the sun, and of all the ignorance of history, science, and human nature ever displayed in the history of the human race, that which stands out in bold relief, as preeminent, is the fashionable custom of conversion, or “getting religion.” When the evidence lies all around us as thick as the fallen leaves of autumn, clustering on the pages of history, and proclaimed by every principle of mental science, that what is called conversion is nothing but a mental and temperamental or nervous phenomenon — a psychological process — how can we rank those amongst intelligent people who still claim it to be “the power of God operating upon the soul of the sinner”? Ignorance is the only plea that can acquit them of the charge of imbecility. The number who daily fall victims to this priestly delusion in various parts of the country may be reckoned by thousands. We propose in this chapter to exhibit some of the evils and absurdities of this wide-spread delusion and religious mono- mania. To do so the more effectually, we will arrange the presentation of the subject under four separate heads. We will attempt to show, —


  1. Its historical errors.


  2. Its logical errors.


  3. Its philosophical or scientific errors.


  4. Its moral evils.


1st. Its Historical Errors. — an we conceive it possible that the thousands of priests who are now employed in “converting souls to God” are so ignorant of history as not to know that it is an old pagan custom? that it was prevalent in heathen countries long before a single soul was converted to Christianity, and is carried on to some extent now, both among pagans and Mahomedans? From such facts it would appear (viewing the matter from the Christian stand- point) that God is indifferent as to what kind of religion, or what sort of religious nonsense, people are converted to, or whether it is truth or error they embrace, or whether it is a true religion or a false one they imbibe, so he gets them converted. According to Mr. Higgins, the practice of converting people from one Sect to another by the popular priesthood was prevalent under the ancient Persian system, and was carried on there quite extensively more than three thousand years ago; and the process was essentially the same as that now in vogue amongst modern Methodists, and the effect the same. At their large revival meetings the whole congregation would sometimes become so affected under the eloquent ministrations of the officiating priest, as to cry, and shout, and prostrate themselves upon the ground, which was afterward found to be drenched with their tears; and on these occasions they would confess their sins to each other, and to their priests; and yet those very sins they condemned were, perhaps, amongst the best acts of their lives, while their real crimes were overlooked and justified, instead of being condemned, thus showing that an honest, just, and sensible God could have had nothing to do with it. And we have reports of similar scenes witnessed more recently among the Mahomedans. Major Denham furnishes us an account of some “revival meetings” he attended a few years since in Arabia, carried on by one of the Mahomedan sects. On one occasion the effect of the discourse of the preacher upon the audience in the way of “converting souls to God” was so powerful, that he could only convince himself that he was not in a Methodist revival meeting by a knowledge of his geographical position. The preacher’s name was Malem Chadily, and here is a specimen of some of his language. “Turn, turn, sinner, unto God; confess he is good, and that Mahomet is his prophet; wash, and become clean of your sins, and paradise is open before you: without this nothing can save you from eternal fire.” During this earnest appeal (says the major), tears flowed plentifully, and everybody appeared to be affected. One of his hearers, becoming converted, shouted, “Your words pierce my soul,” and fell upon the floor. Now let it be borne in mind, that Mahomet is stigmatized and condemned by the Christian churches as “a false prophet,” and his religion denounced as “a system of fraud,” “a false religion,” &c. Of course, then, Christians will not argue, nor admit, that conversion, and “getting religion,” in this case, is the work of God. A just God would have nothing to do in converting people to “a false religion.” What explanation shall we adopt for it then? To assume it to be the work of the devil (the dernier resort for all religious difficulties), and conversions among Christians the work of God, when both are so clearly and obviously alike, is to insult common sense. To assume that two things, exactly alike in character, can be exactly and diametrically unlike in origin, is a scientific paradox which no person of common intelligence can swallow, or accept for a moment. Both, then, we must admit, have the same origin. This train of argument leads us to speak of, —

2d. The Logical Absurdities of the Doctrine of Conversion. — There are several circumstances which point unmistakably as the needle to the pole, to the mundane origin of the phenomenon of conversion.

The character of many of the priestly conductors who “run the battery,” is sufficient of itself to preclude the hypothesis of any divine agency in the matter. The most powerful revivalist we ever knew, the priest who could convert an audience the quickest, and bring down sinners to the mourners’ bench faster than any other clergyman we ever heard “dealing out damnation” to the people, was a broad-shouldered, muscular, stentorian-voiced circuit rider of the “Buckeye State,” who, as was afterward learned, was guilty of perpetrating some of the blackest crimes that ever blotted the page of human history, at the very time of his most successful career in the way of “convicting souls of sin, and converting them to God.” He was apprehended by the officers of the law in the midst of one of his most flourishing revivals, under the twofold charge, 1. Of being the father of an illegitimate child, the young mother of which was a member of his church; 2. Of defrauding one of his neighbors in a trade to the amount of nearly a thousand dollars — both of which charges he was convicted of. A similar case, but possessing some worse features, occurred a few years since in the county in which the author now resides. A preacher, who had had criminal connection with a young woman of his church, in order to conceal his guilt resorted to the damnable expedient of administering poison to his victim shortly before his illicit intercourse with her would have been made manifest by the birth of a child. He was apprehended for the crime while carrying on “a most glorious revival,” as it was styled by some of the deluded congregation. Now to ascribe the irresistible power which these two preachers exerted over their audience (in the way of “converting them to God”) to a divine source, as they claimed for it, would be to trifle with common sense, common decency, and all honorable conceptions of a God. These reverend scamps often instituted the high claim of being “called of God” to their ministerial labors. But if we concede the claim, we should have to conclude that God knew but little about them, for he certainly would not knowingly employ such moral outlaws upon such an important mission.

Having thus briefly spoken of the character of some of the actors and agents in the work of conversion, we will now glance at the character of some of the religions and religious ideas, and moral course of conduct, to which the sinner is converted. It is evident that if ad All-wise God had anything to do in the process of converting people to any system of religion, he would also convert them to correct moral habits. But in many cases, after conversion they are no nearer right in this respect, and in some cases further from it than before being thus sanctified. In some cases their religion becomes worse, their religious ideas less sensible, and their moral conduct more objectionable, by “the change of heart” in “getting religion.” Mr. Spencer informs us that the Vewas, a sect or tribe of the Feegees, often cry for hours under conviction for sin. And what is that sin? Why, the neglect to offer sacrifices to their God. And those sacrifices consist in human beings, sometimes their own children. And their conviction, conversion, and repentance only make them more diligent in practicing this crime. It is evident, then, that their religion is at war with their humanity, and the former always triumphs in the contest. They are addicted to cannibalism, infanticide, and polygamy. But as the process of “getting religion” never makes anybody more intelligent, the “change of heart,” with the Vewas, never changes their views, or opens their eyes to see the enormity of their crimes. In “getting religion” people get neither sense, knowledge, nor morality. They get neither a larger stock, nor an improved quality, of either. Their moral conduct is not often sensibly improved, materially or permanently.

3d. Scientific Errors, and Scientific Explanations of Conversion. — The phenomena of conversion and “getting religion” are so easily explained in the light of science and philosophy, and that explanation is susceptible of so many proofs and demonstrations, that it seems remarkably strange that any persons claiming to be intelligent, and situated in the focal, scientific light of the nineteenth century, should still be hampered with the delusion that such phenomena are the direct display of the power of God. It requires but little investigation and reflection to convince any person that what is called conversion, and “repentance for sin,” is nothing but the revival of early educational impressions resuscitated by the influence of mind on mind. No person has ever been known to get or embrace a religion he was not biased in favor of prior to the time of his conversion, unless we except a few weak-minded persons negative to any influence, and convertible to any religion the priest may urge upon their attention. A very strong proof of this statement is furnished by the history of the Christian missionary enterprise. The reports of travelers and sojourners in India show, that with two hundred years’ labor, and two hundred missionaries in the field during a part of that period, the churches have not succeeded in converting one in ten thousand of the Hindoos to the Christian religion — unless we except those who, while children, were sent to Christian schools instituted by the missionaries for the special purpose of converting and warping the young mind, and welding it to the Christian faith before it should receive an unchangeable and unyielding bias in favor of another religion. So fruitless has been the effort to convert to Christianity those who were already established in the religion of the country, that, according to the estimate of Colonel Dow, each convert, on an average, has cost the missionary enterprise not less than ten thousand dollars. An intelligent Hindoo, while lecturing recently in London, made the remarkable statement, that conversions which are made to the Christian religion are not amongst the intelligent or learned classes, but are confined to the low, ignorant, and superstitious classes, “who have not sense or intelligence enough to perceive the difference between the religion they are converted to, and that which they are converted from.” And the effort to convert the Mahomedans, Chinese, Persians, and the disciples of other religions has been attended with the same fruitless results — all seeming to warrant the conclusion that God can do but little toward converting any nation to Christianity which has always been biased in favor of another religion. The reason why people are so easily converted from one sect to another in Christian countries is owing to the fact that their religious convictions are unsettled. The members of the different Christian sects are all mixed up together in the various settlements throughout the country, and are brought in daily contact with each other in the busy scenes of life.

Hence the children have the seeds of Methodism, Presbyterianism, Baptistism, Quakerism, and various other isms implanted in their minds in very early life. And which one of these will ultimately predominate depends upon what priest they fall victims to first. Having thus the germs of so many religious isms implanted in their minds, they are easily shifted about, and converted from one sect to another. And this shuttlecock process is called getting religion,” while, if they had lived in a country where only one form of religion exists, they would be as hard to convert as Mahomedans and Hindoos.

Repentance. — Much importance is attached by the orthodox churches to the act of getting religion in the dying hour, — called “death-bed repentance,” — as if the person were better capable of discriminating between right and wrong when his brain is deranged with fever, and his whole system racked with disease and pain, than when in health. Such repentance can do nothing more than prove the honesty of the dying man or woman. For very often their doctrines, or religious belief, will be found no nearer right, and sometimes more erroneous after repentance than before, as repentance merely consists in the return to early impressions — the revival of former convictions, which may be either right or wrong and are about as likely to be the latter as the former, No instance can be found of a person condemning a wrong act, or a wrong course of life, in his dying moments, unless he had previously believed it to be wrong, or if he had always believed it to be right. How much, then, does repentance do toward deciding what is right and what is wrong? Mahomedanism we know to be deeply fraught with error, but we never read nor heard of an instance of the many millions who had been educated to believe it is right, condemning it on their death-beds, or repenting for not having embraced Christianity, and led the life of a Christian, or for adoring Mahomet instead of Jesus Christ. On the contrary we have a well-authenticated instance of a Mahomedan (a Mr. Merton) who had embraced Christianity, and lived the life of a Christian for many years, renouncing it all, and returning to his primitive faith, when he was taken sick and became apprehensive he was going to die: his early religious impressions, returning involuntarily, wiped out his Christianity, and he died glorying in Mahomedanism. And we have an equally well authenticated case of an Indian of the Choctaw tribe, who had been taught to believe from early life that the white man was his natural enemy, and that it was his right and duty to kill him, repenting on his death-bed for having a short time previously neglected, when the opportunity presented, to despatch a “pale face” he met in his travels. Instead of killing him, he yielded for the moment to the impulse of his better feelings, and passed him by. But on reviewing his past life at the approach of death, he came to the conclusion he had sinned in omitting to kill this man, and he grieved and lamented sorely over this dereliction of apprehended duty. Here we have a case of repentance sanctioning murder. Must we, therefore, conclude that murder is morally right, or a righteous act? Certainly, according to orthodox logic.

Their religious tracts assume that repentance is always for the right, and is prima facie evidence of being right. If not, what does it prove, or of what moral value is it? According to orthodox teaching, being “a murderer at heart,” he was as consignable to perdition as if he had committed the act. There is no escaping the conclusion, therefore, that his repentance landed him in hell, or else proves murder to be right according to orthodox logic.

We have known Quakers to leave their dying testimony against water baptism; and Baptists, with their last breath, declare it is right, and a sin to neglect it. Which is right? Who can tell? We have also known Quakers to condemn dancing in their dying hours, but Shakers never; because one had been taught that it is wrong, and the other that it is right. And which testimony must we accept? Mahomedans often, when approaching the confines of time, repent (sometimes in tears) for not having lived out more rigidly the injunctions of the Koran, but never regret not having been Christians. They often call upon Mahomet to aid them through the gates of death: but not one of the million who die every year ever calls upon Jesus Christ. What, then, does such a conflicting jargon of death-bed repentance prove? What good can grow out of it, or what moral value can possibly attach to it? It establishes simply two principles, —

1st. That repentance grows out of education.

2d. That it depends entirely upon previous convictions as to what it may sanction, and what it may condemn.

No Christian ever repents in favor of Mahomedanism; and no Mahomedan ever lifts up his dying voice in favor of Christianity as being superior to his own religion; and no Hindoo has ever been known to indulge in death-bed lamentation for not having previously embraced either Christianity or Mahomedanism; because their earlier education never turned their minds in that direction. The mind has to be educated over again before it can embrace a new religion, or even condemn a wrong act, which, up to that period, it had always believed to be right.

Hence it is evident repentance may lead a person to condemn what is right and sanction what is wrong. How profoundly ignorant of religious history and mental science must those persons therefore be who attach any importance to those diseased and often incoherent utterances, called “death-bed recantations,” or who believe a thing the sooner because sanctioned by a dying man or woman, or that they do anything toward proving what is right or what is wrong with respect to either our belief or our moral conduct! And yet we find the orthodox churches printing every year, through their tract societies, stories of death-bed repentance in tract form, and scattering them over the country by the million. As they prove nothing but the honesty of the dying man or woman, they are not worth the paper on which they are printed.

The phenomenon of repentance is simply the operation of a natural law, by which the last impressions made upon the mind are generally canceled from the memory first, by the progress of fever and disease, thus leaving the earlier impressions to rule the judgment. The person is then virtually a child, controlled by his early youthful convictions, with which, if his late belief and conduct disagree, it causes a mental conflict, called repentance. Thus, instead of being the visitation of God, as Christians claim, repentance is shown to be the product of natural causes. The conclusion is thus established beyond disproof, that the mental processes called conversion, repentance, and “getting religion” are simply natural psychological operations, depending upon education, organization, and intelligence. They depend also upon intellect and scientific knowledge. For persons of large intellectual brains, or extensive scientific culture, never fall victims to these mental derangements. Hence those priests who claim God as their author are either deplorably and inexcusably ignorant, or lacking in moral honesty.

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